Under a new bill signed into law Monday, repeat DUI offenders could lose their licenses for a decade after three convictions in 10 years.

The legislation -- penned by Assemblyman Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo -- targets drivers who get their licenses back after multiple arrests. Currently, three convictions in 10 years means a three-year loss of a person's license. The new law, AB 1601, gives judges the discretion to impose a decadelong revocation.

"This could be landmark legislation," Hill said. "It will take 10,000 repeat DUI offenders off the road."

The bill does not take effect until Jan. 1, 2012. Hill said the bill will start a year after being approved in order to give the Department of Motor Vehicles and courts time to coordinate.

Hill took up the issue after reading a series of stories in the San Mateo County Times on repeat DUI offenders. One of the stories chronicled William Simon, who got his ninth DUI in January 2009 when he parked his car near a San Mateo coffee shop and stumbled past two cops. His license was valid at the time of his arrest.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger commended the rule Monday after signing it.

"This legislation is an important step toward making California's roads safer," Schwarzenegger said in a statement. "Those who have multiple DUI convictions should not be on the road threatening lives."

An earlier version of the bill faced stiff resistance from critics. That draft would have stripped drivers' licenses for life after three DUIs, and it sought to throw out a rule limiting how far back authorities can look at a person's driving record. But when a state analysis revealed that the bill could put more people in prison and thus cost more money, Hill was forced to revise it.

Joshua Dale, head of the California DUI Lawyers Association, which is critical of the bill, said AB 1601 will likely mean more people will try to fight convictions, possibly resulting in more trials. Taxpayers will get stuck with the bill for the increased expense, he said.

Dale opposed the initial version of the law because in his view it would have removed an incentive many drunken drivers need to get sober: the possibility of getting back their licenses. He said the final version of the bill leaves a bit of hope.

"We still have that carrot at the end of the stick, so to speak," he said.

Contact Joshua Melvin at 650-348-4335.